Robert Shapiro

Not every lawyer has their own Wikipedia page.

For those that do, the entries tend to focus on the headlines, the scandals, the most recognizable cases. Bite-sized summaries of their careers can miss a lot of nuances amidst the glitter and glam.

And with Robert Shapiro, there’s been plenty of glam.

The renowned attorney has represented the gamut of sports and screen stars: Johnny Carson, Darryl Strawberry, Linda Lovelace, Jose Conseco, Paris Hilton, Oscar De La Hoya, Christian Brando (the son of Marlon), Robert Downey Jr., Smokey Robinson, and the Kardashians. To name a few.

Perhaps most renowned was his work as part of the “Dream Team” that represented O.J. Simpson in the homicide case that gripped the country. For that, Shapiro has been portrayed on film and TV a handful of times, including by John Travolta in the FX drama, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”

While his criminal defense work may have garnered the flashiest headlines, Shapiro’s post-O.J. work has largely been in the civil realm, handling complex business litigation and regulatory scrutiny. He has represented the likes of Wynn Resorts, Diamond Resorts, Rockstar Energy, and the president of Mobil Oil, working nimbly on both the plaintiff and defense sides.

“I’d like my legacy to be that I did my best within the canons of ethics to represent people on either side of the dispute, to the best of my ability,” says Shapiro, a member of the Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America.

Another important part of Shapiro’s legacy is the Brent Shapiro Foundation for Drug Prevention, which he and his wife founded and run, in honor of their son who passed away from struggles with drugs and alcohol. The program, in partnership with Boys and Girls Clubs of America, offers free education and support to teens and their parents.   

Shapiro, a longtime partner at Glaser Weil, is also an entrepreneur: he cofounded LegalZoom, the breakout legal services technology company that debuted on the market last year. Shapiro also founded the lawyer database Right Counsel, and co-founded the popular fashion subscription site, ShoeDazzle.

With a deep and varied career and a breadth of talent and interests, Shapiro is an inspiring example of what a lawyer can be. Tantalizingly, he is currently working on his autobiography, provisionally titled, “I Never Wanted To Become a Lawyer.”

Lawdragon: Robert, thank you so much for meeting with us. Tell us, what does your practice look like these days?

Robert Shapiro: I am a litigator with extensive courtroom experience focusing for the past 10 years primarily on civil cases. One of my strong points is negotiation. I have great relationships with mediators. With rare exceptions, every case that has gone to mediation, whether we’re plaintiff’s or defense counsel, has been resolved in mediation. The number of actual courtroom trials I have worked on has diminished greatly in recent years, and that’s basically because of changes in the law. The most fundamental change was that if certain lawsuits are filed, they are public and any later civil compromise or settlement cannot be confidential. My clients tend to want to avoid that attention.

LD: Looking way back, how did you first become interested in law?

RS: I’m actually sending in a proposal for an autobiography called “I Never Wanted To Be a Lawyer.” And it’s true: I never really wanted to be a lawyer. I was a finance major at UCLA and the Vietnam draft board was directly across the street from the campus. I was 1-A fit and ready to go, but ultimately I chose to go to law school and that started my legal career.

LD: When you first started law school, was there a type of law you envisioned practicing?

RS: Only in my third year when I won the moot court competition and got a perfect score from one of the toughest federal judges sitting on the bench, Manny Real. He met with me afterward and said I should be a trial lawyer and that the best way to start was to be a prosecutor. I took his advice and had the opportunity to be a prosecutor, a public defender or a member of the county counsel. By being a DA, I knew I would be going up against some of the top lawyers around, so that’s what I chose and where I got my background in trial law.

LD: Was there an early experience or mentor who really helped shape the course of your young professional life?

RS: Rather than mentors – because there are many people who contributed to giving me the tools and skills that I now have – I looked toward lawyers that were incredibly successful, such as Edward Bennett Williams, Melvin Belli and Louis Nizer. I knew Belli and he was a great influence. The others I did not know but I followed their careers as a source of inspiration.

Much like some celebrities whom I’ve represented, I have a persona for the public, and then have a private persona.

LD: How has your practice changed since the early part of your career?

RS: I’ve been a named partner at Glaser Weil for the past nearly 30 years – probably 27, to be accurate. I think because of the high-profile cases I’ve handled, people are reluctant to call me because they think their case may not be important enough or that I’m too busy to handle it. Neither of those are true. I have great support from 100 phenomenal lawyers at Glaser Weil to handle virtually any type of civil case.

LD: What else do you appreciate about your firm?

RS: Over the past 30 years, basically since I’ve been there, the partners at Glaser Weil have all gotten along. The founding and named partners who are at the firm today all work extremely hard and are in the office most of the time. We are results oriented and take our work seriously. We are diligent in preparation and are able to combine tremendous joint knowledge in working together to get our clients the best results possible. It shouldn’t be the case, but these traits are very rare in today’s legal market. If I were in need of counsel, there would be no other firm I’d trust more.

LD: What keeps you excited about practicing law at this point in your career?

RS: I like the challenge. I am someone who has been trained in boxing, and I find the courtroom to be very similar to a boxing ring. You always have to have a good offense but be ready for a defense. There’s a lot of strategy involved in civil cases, generally a lot of money involved, and so dealing with sophisticated individuals who are experiencing these career- or life-altering trials keeps me very much in the game and interested in and focused on continuing to work to solve problems for my clients.

LD: Out of all the incredible work you’ve done in your career, what would you say is the most interesting matter you’ve handled?

RS: Well that’s a no-brainer. I’ve been fortunate in my career to be involved at some level with the most high-profile cases in the country, starting with representing Linda Lovelace when I was a young lawyer virtually just out of the DA’s office. Also, successfully representing F. Lee Bailey and doing the Christian Brando case were very significant. And, obviously, the highlight from any lawyer’s point of view would be the O.J. Simpson case, which I maintain is the most interesting matter I’ve handled. And yet, most people don’t realize that some of my biggest cases have been in the civil arena.

LD: You’ve had such a storied career. Are there any recent achievements that were particularly meaningful for you?

RS: Every 10 years, the National Law Journal awards the 100 most influential lawyers in America, and I was fortunate enough to be named in the last edition. I’m quite proud of that and hope to be named again in 2023.

LD: What advice do you have right now for current law school students?

RS: The practice of law is very difficult, and getting a job is extremely competitive unless you’ve come from one of the top-ranked law schools and excelled. I appreciate that it’s also very difficult to pass the bar. In California, the top five law schools have close to a 50 percent passing rate, and then the number of those who pass and actually get jobs in law is diminishing. My recommendation – without being facetious – is to try to get a joint MBA while you are in law school so you have options to broaden your horizons. If you don’t want to actually practice law, you can put your legal training into business development.

LD: Can you share some words about both an established and an up-and-coming lawyer that you admire, and why?

RS: At Glaser Weil, we’re known primarily for trial lawyers and we certainly have among the best in the country, but we have very fine lawyers in our corporate, intellectual property, real estate and tax practice areas as well. Patty Glaser, in particular, is an outstanding example of someone who not only is a highly experienced trial lawyer but also is most effective at negotiating settlements. I admire her greatly and would not want to come up against her.

I’m also extremely proud to have been a mentor to Camille Vasquez when she was a student at USC. She introduced herself to me as the head of charities for her sorority and asked me to give a keynote speech. She later became involved in the Brent Shapiro Foundation for Drug Prevention. Her exposure to the foundation and our law firm led her to intern with me and set the groundwork for a phenomenal legal career. She is now one of the most recognized female lawyers in America for a tremendous victory, which is well-deserved.

Rather than mentors – because there are many people who contributed to giving me the tools and skills that I now have – I looked toward lawyers that were incredibly successful. I followed their careers as a source of inspiration.

LD: You’ve represented so many public figures, and have spent a lot of time in the public eye yourself. How do you think others see you, and is it accurate?

RS: Much like some celebrities whom I’ve represented, I have a persona for the public, and then have a private persona. A great example of that was a client of mine, Johnny Carson, who was one of the biggest television stars ever, and yet in person was basically introverted and would not be described as the life of the party. I also have a persona that I use in court and in negotiation, which is different from my personality in social settings. I try to be thoughtful and low key. I’ve learned from others to speak low and speak slow, and in my personal life I am even more introverted.

LD: How has the practice of law changed since the start of your career?

RS: When I started my career as a criminal defense lawyer, there were much more cordial relationships between the prosecution, defense and judges. It was very common for all of us to mix and go out to lunch together. Even though we would advocate strenuously our positions in court, we didn’t carry it home afterward, and we maintained great relationships. Today, everything is highly adversarial, and there’s virtually no interaction with judges. The rules of professional conduct and judicial ethics isolate lawyers from judges and prevent lawyers from even taking a judge out for a coffee. I think that has hurt the practice, not because if you get to know someone socially it means they’ll do you favors, but because they will know you. Now, it’s almost like a war zone and lawyers push the envelope.

The second thing that has changed dramatically is advertising for lawyers. It’s virtually impossible today for a potential client to be able to decipher who would be the best lawyers for their case, due to mass advertising. I know that corporate general counsels or high-net individuals often have long-standing relationships with law firms, but consider an individual who is looking for counsel for a one-time case. If they do an internet search, they are so inundated with options that it becomes a gamble. And the attorney they do choose might not be specialized in their area of need. There are many lawyers who are generalists and they advertise that they can do anything and everything.

LD: Tell us about the foundation you started in memory of your son.  

RS: My wife and I started the Brent Shapiro Foundation for Drug Prevention sixteen years ago in honor of our son. The program is available to kids aged 11-18, at no cost to them, in partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. It’s a rewards-based program based on academics and random testing that rewards kids for staying sober and offers the opportunity to receive a college scholarship to sober high school graduates. This year, we gave out four full four-year scholarships. Our members are going to UCLA, Berkeley, the University of California San Diego and NYU. Additionally, we gave out eight $5K-$10K scholarships for students in junior college. Those scholarships are renewable based on standards we have set up for kids to remain recipients – basically, carrying a certain number of units and maintaining a B-minus average.

LD: That’s wonderful. What do you do for fun when you’re outside the office?

RS: I have several passions outside of the office. Beyond my son’s foundation, I am passionate about entrepreneurship. I started the biggest online internet company dealing with legal documentation, called LegalZoom. I also co-founded ShoeDazzle. My private passion is boxing. I’ve been boxing for most of my adult life and have been fortunate to train with professional fighters at the Wild Card Boxing Club run by Hall of Famer Freddy Roach.

LD: Do you have a favorite television show or movie about the justice system?

RS: I believe that live cases in a courtroom are much more interesting than the way they are portrayed in film and television. I find they tend to sensationalize the legal industry and the content is often not legally accurate.

LD: If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing now?

RS: I’m too old to fight professionally, but that’s what I probably would have done. I’d also be involved in business. As I mentioned, I was a finance major at UCLA and have always been intrigued by business. My desire upon graduating UCLA was to actually get involved in investment banking. So, that’s what I would be doing today if I was not a lawyer.

LD: Thank you so much for speaking with us. You have a fascinating life and career.

RS: There’s so much of my life to share. As I mentioned, I am currently working on my autobiography with a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Proposals are going out to publishers with the working title “I Never Wanted To Become a Lawyer.” We hope to have it available next summer. Stay tuned…

I’d also be remiss not to mention my family, which is so central to my life. No saying could ever be more true than “the law is a jealous mistress.” It has been exceedingly difficult over the years for my wife and kids to have a lawyer as their spouse and father because it’s all-encompassing. It never goes away, it’s not a 9-to-5 job, and it requires a lot of isolation. Even the simplest questions become major distractions when you’re piled under a stack of papers, and it’s difficult for families to understand that. I tried to mitigate that isolation by coaching or being present for every athletic game my children were involved in – whether it was soccer or ice hockey at 4:30/5 o’clock in the morning. I’m always grateful for my family’s patience and support.